The food we provide our children as infants, toddlers, preschoolers and beyond influence not only their health, growth and development but also shape lifelong eating habits. Offering our children a large variety of foods and tastes can only help foster a peaceful relationship with food.
Often in the toddler stage and preschool stage food becomes the focus of many battles. How to get over the “beige diet” or the “toddler appetite” is commonly discussed among parents. The more variety and nutritionally sound foods we give them, the better chance they have to developing healthy, balanced lifestyles which foster longer life, health and general happiness.
While still respecting little one’s tastes and their small bellies, these are some fun ways to play with food and help children discover new tastes:
1. Shape it: Cookie cutters are an easy and fun way to present fruits like melons, watermelonand pineapple in shapes ready for eating. We like to use star and circle cutters to make stars and planets. Using a blue plate as the background we then build delicious space scenes. Building aliens by stacking avocado pieces and banana chunks on a toothpick and carving a melon rocket ship by cutting just a wedge on the side and opening the spaceship door in a downwards motion adds to the fun. Cookie cutters also work well for making fun sandwiches like our dinosaur stegosaurus with zuchini noodles and carrots.
2. Freeze it: Fill a freezer approved, closeable container half way with some sliced and diced fruits like grapes, berries, bananas, melon and peaches. Fill water up to three-quarters of the container and then cover it and freeze it for several hours or overnight. Run some warm water on the outside of the container to loosen it up and serve it on a large plate. My boys love to pick the frozen fruit from this big ice block as a snack. I have used this to introduce new fruits like papaya and mango chunks and it worked well.(Credit goes to the tv show “Sid the Science kid” for this fun idea)
3. Blend it: From fruit smoothies to veggie juices, blending is a great way to get a big mix of fruits and veggies served up. Allowing the children to drop the ingredients into the blender and pressing the buttons is a good way to involve them in the blending process making them even more likely to try it. Recently we tried some green smoothies with spinach, I heard so many moms raving about these but truth be told these were rejected – through a lot of laughter, we all agreed they were just awful.Happy that everyone gave it a try, we then whipped up a batch of berry-banana yogurt smoothies and kept laughing about the green yucky goop.
4.Dress it up: We love to use broccoli, cauliflower, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, shredded carrots, beans, olives and more to decorate a round pizza into a face or animal or to transform a whole potato into an edible version of Mr. Potato head. Having pre-cut veggie chunks and shapes and setting it up on small plates for the children to pick from and use for their creations usually leads them to eat a lot of the ingredients ahead of time too. A while back I had to chop up extra mushrooms because they had all mysteriously disappeared from the plate and everyone wanted more for their pizza creations.
5. Bake it: Baking with children is just lots of fun. So many great things can be whipped up in the oven, whole grain breads, scones, oatmeal cookies, pies to name a few. One of our favorite things to do in the kitchen is making banana zucchini bread.The more involved children get into the baking process I find the more likely they are to eat the food when it is ready. My three year old recently washed all the blueberries for a pie we made together. We also cut out letters and shapes for the top crust. When it was time to try the pie he was not hesitant at all and really enjoyed it. Using whole grains for dough, reducing sugars and looking for healthy ingredients are all ways to make baking a fun filled and healthy activity.
6. Name it: From Viking chicken to Mikaela Pasta, many of our foods and dishes have fun names. Sometimes they are named after friends who introduced us to the foods, other times they are names my children have come up with. Pirate bananas are cut in a diagonal and Felix bread is a whole grain cracker a friend shared that became a favorite snack. Viking chicken is the name for chicken served on the bone and eaten without utensils. Mikaela pasta is tri-colored vegetable pasta and worms are pieces of bread rolled up. Green goop is the stuff we will not be making again anytime soon.
Our family meals and snacks are lots of fun, mostly healthy and often messy. What about you, what ways do you have fun with food in your family?